Atlanta mayoral candidates deal with issues of race at bicycling forum

An Atlanta mayoral forum this week about the city’s bicycling infrastructure turned into a discussion on race and the lack of transit options and economic development in underserved parts of Georgia’s capital.

The candidates, speaking at the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition meeting, unanimously praised the benefits of bicycling as a transportation alternative — especially on the city’s traffic-clogged streets. But several cautioned enthusiasts not to think that the subject has universal appeal, especially in poorer communities, such as some parts of southwest Atlanta, which is largely African-American.

“In the most challenged communities, if you don’t have grocery stores, if you don’t have basic amenities, when you start talking about bike lanes, it’s almost an insult and a slap in the face,” said Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall. “We got to be honest about that.”

Said candidate Laban King, “To the black community, a bike lane is a symbol of gentrification that’s about to come.” he said.

Atlanta mayor’s race: A wide-open contest that will shape the region

The conversation comes as the city grapples with balancing the needs of growing numbers of well-to-do newcomers — attracted to economically rebounding neighborhoods in Midtown and Old Fourth Ward — with poorer residents in West End or southwest Atlanta where many have yet to experience the nation’s financial resurgence.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said complicating the issue is the idea that everyone has access to a bike. For many in poor communities, owning a bicycle is a luxury.

“While I agree in concept with the expansion of bike lanes, there are so many layers before we can even get to that in many of our communities,” she said.

State Sen. Vincent Fort and Michael Sterling, former director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said part of the issue is lack of communication. Too often residents are told by City Hall what is in their best interest, instead of being asked what they think.

Atlanta mayor's race: Sen. Bernie Sanders to stump for Fort in Atlanta election
Atlanta mayor's race: Keisha Lance Bottoms ad takes on Mary Norwood "racial profiling" reply

That happened recently when the predominately black community along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive rejected a plan to build bike lanes near the intersection with Northside Drive, Ford said. In areas where the street has four lanes, the plan was to narrow them to two lanes with a bike lane on either side.

“You have to engage the public,” he said. “When you have a plan and you want the community to adopt it, you can’t just drop it off, you have to engage them.”

The panel of 12 contenders found other areas of agreement.

Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood said not to forget the role that MARTA could play. Both said the city needs more buses and an expansion of the frequency in which they run, especially in underserved communities.

MORE: Norwood, Mitchell pick up endorsements from Atlanta firefighter groups

MORE Shirley Franklin backs APS’ Courtney English in Atlanta council race

Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, former city of Atlanta COO Peter Aman and former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves talked of creating a willingness in Atlanta to experiment with different ways of making cycling work in the city. Cities such as Chicago and Berlin, which have successfully integrated bike lanes because of infrastructure investment, could serve as a blueprint for what could be done here.

“I want Atlanta to be the beta-test city,” Aman said. “I want Atlanta to try things that other cities frankly have not tried.”


The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta politics. Subscribe to

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Police: Road rage escalates to gunfire, kills 1 teen, injures another in Decatur
Police: Road rage escalates to gunfire, kills 1 teen, injures another in Decatur

A teen was shot and killed during a road rage incident in Decatur Wednesday afternoon, Channel 2 Action News reported. Police arrived at the intersection of South Candler Street and Midway Road around 5:45 p.m. to find two people shot inside a car, Decatur Police said in a Facebook post. Both were transported to a hospital, where one of the two died...
Cops: Woman stole roommate’s jewelry worth $4,500, sold it for $200
Cops: Woman stole roommate’s jewelry worth $4,500, sold it for $200

A Hall County woman told authorities some of her and her roommate’s jewelry was stolen. But deputies said she lied, stole her roommate’s jewelry and sold it for a fraction of what it was worth. Cynthia Leigh Fuller, 58, of Gainesville, allegedly stole jewelry valued at more than $4,500 and unlawfully sold it to another person for $200,...
THURSDAY’S WEATHER-TRAFFIC: Summer arrives with more heat, scattered afternoon storms
THURSDAY’S WEATHER-TRAFFIC: Summer arrives with more heat, scattered afternoon storms

Thursday: High: 90 Thursday night: Low: 72 Friday: High: 88 Atlanta will welcome summer Thursday morning. And it’ll still be hot. Very hot. An area of high pressure over the Southeast has been keeping the rain at bay, meaning there’s been few clouds to stop the sun from beaming down across the state, Channel 2 Action News...
Race takes center stage on Day One of Spalding cold case murder trial
Race takes center stage on Day One of Spalding cold case murder trial

Racial animus led Franklin Gebhardt to murder Timothy Coggins in 1983, prosecutors said Wednesday. Indifference over a black man’s death left the Spalding County case unsolved for 34 years, Griffin Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney Marie Broder said in her opening statement. It was an admission seized upon by Gebhardt’s...
Teen killed in crash days before starting college
Teen killed in crash days before starting college

An 18-year-old who was about to start college was killed in Coweta County when her car flipped at least seven times before landing in a church driveway, Channel 2 Action News reported.  About 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jasmine Williams’ car went off the road on Ga. 34, according to the news station. Investigators believe it went airborne before hitting...
More Stories